AMBROGI LAW OFFICE > ARTICLES
Federal Sites Offer Resources For Conveyancers
By Robert J. Ambrogi
Any lawyer who has ever closed a real-estate sale is all too familiar with
the HUD-1, the standard form used to settle the financial details of the
transaction. Required by the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act,
it is but one reminder of the many federal laws and regulations that come
into play in conveyancing.
For lawyers who practice in this field, what better way to keep on top of
all this than through the federal government's own Web sites? This month
we look at some of the federal sites of particular use to lawyers involved
in real estate law and practice.
Sources For Laws, Forms
The source of the HUD-1 is, of course, the U.S. Department
of Housing and Urban Development
, which has dubbed its useful
and informative site, "Homes and Communities." Dense and multi-layered, it
is deep with resources for consumers and professionals alike.
Guiding visitors into all this is the well-designed front page. The main
navigation bar, a vertical strip to the left that remains a constant throughout
the site, links to information organized under five main topics: HUD News,
Homes, Communities, Working With HUD, Resources, and Tools.
For consumers, the Homes section is likely to be of most interest, with pages
devoted to buying, selling, renting and foreclosure. Lawyers are likely to
be most interested in the Resources section, particularly its library. Jump
to the section, "Legal Information," to find administrative law judge decisions,
legal opinions from HUD's general counsel, handbooks, regulations, notices
and more. Other library sections cover topics such as fair housing, lead
paint, labor relations and FOIA.
Back on the front page, another navigation bar organizes the site not by
topics, but by interest groups. Links lead to information designed for senior
citizens, veterans, lenders, brokers, appraisers and small businesses, to
name a few. Notably, the one interest group absent from this list is lawyers.
But that is OK, because HUD has a whole other site that should be the primary
destination for real estate professionals. Called HUDCLIPS
, it is HUD's official repository of policies, procedures, announcements and
the like. Short for "HUD Client Information and Policy System," HUDCLIPS
contains full-text searchable databases of all HUD handbooks; notices; mortgagee,
preservation and Title I letters; U.S. Code titles 12 and 42; Code of Federal
Regulations Title 24; housing waivers; Office of General Counsel preservation
documents; Federal Register notices; and more.
HUDCLIPS also houses all HUD forms. Most come in PDF format, with some also
in GIF format or as templates for Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. The
PDF forms are "fillable," meaning you can call up a form such as the HUD-1
settlement statement and fill it out right from the site.
Fannie and Freddie
Over at Fannie Mae
, the nation's largest source of home-mortgage
funds, its Web sites are under renovation. Actually a private corporation,
federally chartered to increase the availability and affordability of housing,
Fannie Mae has had a long-standing record on the Web of providing useful
information for homebuyers and lenders, along with general financial and
corporate information. Recent changes, however, are reorganizing key elements
of the site.
The first change has to do with HomePath
, a site for consumers
that Fannie Mae operates as a companion to its main page. For several years,
it has provided information on buying or refinancing a home along with tools
designed to help locate a lender or mortgage. As of Nov. 15, 2002, Fannie
Mae is closing HomePath and merging the content back into its main site.
With the changeover, Fannie Mae says, will come new and enhanced content,
while retaining many of HomePath's most popular features. These include mortgage
calculators for helping consumers determine what price house they can afford,
and a tool for searching for Fannie Mae properties for sale.
Of greater interest to lawyers is Fannie Mae's recent launch of a second
companion site, eFannieMae
, designed exclusively for
professionals involved in lending, mortgage brokering, mortgage-backed securities
and debt securities. Subsections provide complete libraries of downloadable
forms and documents, regular news updates, information on mortgage products
and services, and the text of guide announcements and lender letters, and
If Fannie Mae had a cousin, it would have to be Freddie Mac
, another private corporation created by Congress,
this one to support home ownership by purchasing mortgages and repackaging
them into securities. Lawyers will find useful the current and historical
prime mortgage rate information, as well as the various pages of information
on mortgage and debt securities. All of Freddie Mac's mortgage documents
are available for downloading, including its library of uniform mortgage
instruments, organized by state.
Other Useful Sites
Real-estate transactions rarely occur without a bank involved,
making the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
, a useful
resource. The FDIC's site has news of interest to the banking industry; federal
banking laws and regulations; the full-text of its publications and articles,
including a survey of the most important federal laws relating to banking;
a number of statistical reports on banks and banking; and a host of other
information for banking professionals and consumers.
Real estate lawyers can use the FDIC's site to investigate a particular bank's
financial condition or to review any of a number of statistical reports such
as the FDIC's semiannual Survey of Real Estate Trends. The FDIC is in the
real estate business as well. In its capacity as a court-appointed receiver,
the FDIC liquidates a variety of assets, including real estate. Use the site's
Real Estate Retrieval System to search for FDIC properties for sale nationwide.
As I write this, a hurricane is bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Helping me
track its progress is the Web site of the Federal Emergency Management Agency
. FEMA's site is a general guide to the before and after of natural
disasters – preventing them, preparing for them, mitigating loss from them,
and dealing with their aftermath. The site provides information on the National
Flood Insurance Program, the U.S. Fire Administration, housing recovery after
a disaster, and FEMA mapping products. The library has official forms, information
on filing a flood-insurance claim, and informative articles. There is even
a collection of disaster photographs, with images of hurricanes, forest fires,
avalanches, floods and tornadoes. If you have clients recovering from disasters
or living and working in disaster-prone areas, this site is invaluable.
The last stop on this real-estate lawyers' tour of government
Web sites is the Department of Veterans Affairs, Home Loan Guaranty Services
. This site includes complete information on VA-guaranteed
home loans. Sections for consumers help them determine their eligibility
for a VA loan. For lenders and real-estate professionals, there is a guide
to VA loans and a complete library of forms.
Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., is author
of The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web, which
is available from LawCatalog.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Past
installments of this column are archived at www.legaline.com.